Her face was quite fascinating—a rather large nose set off sharp, high cheekbones; intense golden-brown eyes; and red-painted lips. Her features weren’t classically attractive, but she had a presence that made you want to keep looking. Energy buzzed around her figure like a nest of bees. She was taller than he was, colorful, and larger than life. This was a woman who would not be easily dismissed, so if she had a problem, Gabe was in trouble and he’d better fix it.
Instead of a blistering tirade, she threw her head back and gave a loud, joyous laugh. “Darling, I absolutely loved it! Your Santa routine was classic, and every single detail was perfection. Oh, how I despise cookie-cutter weddings, and though Eloise likes that princess trope far too much—I mean, really, a horse-drawn carriage?—the rest of it was unique and so enjoyable.”
He relaxed. “I’m glad. Our goal is to always give couples the wedding of their dreams.”
“I’m Eloise’s second cousin, Adele,” she said, offering her hand.
He respected her firm, short shake.
“I happen to be getting married myself and would love for you to do mine. Now, who is your lovely partner?”
Surprise shot through him. Usually brides requested a detailed planning session before jumping on board. Still, business was business. “Bella Sunshine-Caldwell. She’s one of the owners. Let me call her over so we can chat.”
He spoke briefly into his earpiece, and Bella quickly flanked him, introducing herself to Adele.
“I was just telling Gabe how much I adored the wedding and that I must have you both for my own.”
“How wonderful! I’m honored you’d choose us. How long are you in Cape May? Would you like to come in for a meeting?”
Adele waved a hand in the air and straightened her fuchsia shawl. “Oh, I have no time for that, darling. I’m just so over the stuck-up planners I’ve met, and Eloise has told me how nice you’ve both been—not fake nice, there’s a difference you know! Anyhoo, I can send over all my preference sheets. It’s March second, so of course we’d need to celebrate the theme. We already have the reception place booked—I just need everything else done.”
Gabe was used to overenthusiastic clients and tried to pull out more important details. “What is the reception venue?”
“The Housing Works Bookstore Café. I absolutely adore old things. Charm, vintage, character. Why do new when you can polish up old?” She winked. “Kind of like me, right?”
Gabe grinned. Damn, he liked her. She was so unpretentious, and fun. Planning her wedding would be a pleasure, but her venue was definitely not in Cape May. Not something he’d usually take on, but if he had the time, it might be nice to expand his client list.
“Where’s the bookstore located?” Bella asked.
“It’s in Manhattan.”
Gabe nodded. “Well, we usually only do weddings in Jersey, but I’d be happy to discuss. It may sound like a year is far out, but it’s never too early to sit down to go over some details. You said there was a theme?”
Another hearty laugh. “Darling, it’s this March, not next! And our wedding date is on Dr. Seuss Day, my favorite author on the planet, so we’d need to do all the things to celebrate. Nothing is too outrageous; we must do something to liven up the crowd. Edward’s friends can be a bit stuffy.”
He shared a knowing glance with Bella, and his initial enthusiasm drained away. Damn. Why did the interesting brides and grooms have to be outlandish? There was no way they could plan something in two months, especially with a theme like that.
Bella spoke warmly, with the perfect touch of regret. “Oh, Adele, I must apologize, but we simply won’t be able to take on another wedding only two months away. It sounds wonderful, and I know it will be a perfect day.”
“Don’t be silly, you must. I’ve already fired my last few planners, and I can’t do it alone.” She flashed a brilliant smile and did another wave of her hand. “I’ll pay whatever is needed, of course. Now, I don’t want to ruin Eloise’s brunch by talking about my business, so I’ll call you, and we’ll get moving ASAP! Thank you, my darlings, this shall be epic!” She blew air-kisses and drifted back into the crowd, her red hair and bright clothes a beacon.
“Now that would’ve been my greatest achievement,” he said, still a bit bummed he wouldn’t get a crack at the unconventional wedding.
Bella grinned and shook her head. “That would be something, all right. Let’s just be grateful we can decline this one smoothly. Can you imagine squeezing in another wedding this quarter?”
He shuddered. “No. Though I do have more openings than you.” He hesitated, but forged ahead, ignoring his mental warnings. “I’m happy to help you out with anything. I know you’re probably glad this weekend is over, but I liked working with you.”
He expected her usual dismissive response, but for one moment, emotion flared in her powder-blue eyes, and the breath whooshed out of his lungs like a lovesick teen desperate to hear the answer to his prom proposal. Her lush lips parted, poised to say something; then she blinked, half turning away, as if she’d changed her mind. “Me, too. Eloise mentioned she made a love match. At least you got Jing’s number. Not a bad reward, huh?”
Her words were delivered with a mocking lightness that tore through him. He wished Eloise hadn’t mentioned it, especially since he had no plans to call Jing. Did Bella really think he was constantly searching for women to date? “I’m not calling her,” he said, desperate to explain. “I was just being polite.”
She laughed. “It’s okay. The wedding’s over, and she’s not a client. I can’t imagine how you keep track of everyone, though. Good thing your phone holds unlimited contacts.”
Annoyance skated through him. “No, I don’t—”
But she’d already disappeared into the crowd without a glance back.
Soon, the bride and groom waved goodbye from their covered carriage. Gabe watched them lean in for a kiss while the horses pulled them to their happy ending, wondering if there’d ever be one for him.
A few days later, he walked into the conference room at Sunshine Bridal for the regular morning meeting. Avery already had her favorite breakfast in front of her—a perfectly baked chocolate croissant and coffee. She was the leader of the crew, and he’d been lucky to learn the business under her guidance—her perfectionist ways equaled a perfect wedding, and he’d instituted a lot of her tricks of the trade. With her wildly curly hair, hazel eyes, and curvy build, she was like a firecracker always on a slow simmer, ready to launch.
“Good morning, Gabe!” she boomed out, a big smile on her face.
“Morning, Avery.” He took his usual seat beside her and propped open his laptop. “How was Texas?”
“Amazing. Hot as hell and I adored every moment. Did I miss anything?”
Taylor sat at the end of the table, combat boots resting on the opposite chair, crossed at the ankles. Her diamond nose stud winked in the light streaming from the window, and pink hair shimmered with more enthusiasm than her words. “It’s Cape May in the dead of winter. There’s nothing to miss, dude.”
He tamped down a laugh at Avery’s sisterly sigh. “Well, it’s rare that we’re all gone an entire weekend.”
Taylor smirked. “Your control-freak tendencies are showing. Admit it. You loved taking a vacation, didn’t you?”
Avery was a proud admitted workaholic, but since meeting Carter last summer, she’d begun to ease away from her crippling schedule. She bit her lip in guilt. “I did,” she whispered. “So much that we planned another one. What’s happening to me?”
“It’s called love,” Bella sang out, entering the room. He automatically stiffened as the energy swirled around her—a feminine, light cloud that he wanted to savor. She grabbed her coffee and took her seat across from him. “Enjoy, you deserve it. Let the commoners take up your slack.”
“Speak for yourself,” Taylor said. “I have one year left on my prison term, and I don’t intend to spend it working nonstop every weekend.”
Gabe caught the worried glance Avery shot her sister. When Taylor had joined the family business, she’d always been clear it wasn’t permanent. She’d never been interested in settling down in the small beach town where she grew up, and now that the time for Taylor to leave drew near, Gabe knew they had to make some hard decisions. Bringing in another employee was a big risk, especially since they were a tight-knit crew.
As usual, Bella smoothed things over. “We’ll work it out. In the meantime, the Royal wedding went off beautifully, right, Gabe?”
He nodded. “Perfection. We almost recruited another client for March.”
Avery perked up. “Oh, next March is a great time—we have openings.”
“She wanted us for this March.” He almost laughed at Avery’s horrified expression. “With a Dr. Seuss theme.”
Taylor groaned. “Nightmare. Bet you had fun saying no to that one.”
“She was lovely,” Bella said firmly. “Just not in her right state of mind. She said she’d fired all her other wedding planners.”